Santiago, Chile – 10 First Impressions

I like to think that I’m a little bit of a unique traveler in that I don’t do much research on a destination before I arrive. I don’t want to hear about the destination from other people’s views, I want to see it, taste it, experience it for myself and make my own opinions. Now, this isn’t for everyone. Lots of people love to read all about it before they arrive so that they know what they want to see and do. Me, I just like to arrive and see what I feel like. Since I’m writing a blog and you are reading it, I’m glad you are the type of person who likes to hear about other’s experiences. If we were all like me, I wouldn’t have anyone out there reading, instead I’d be sending everyone to Chile to experience it themselves!

We all know that first impressions are important, for better or worse, so here are 10 of my first impressions of Chile.

1. Mountains. Mountains. Mountains. For about the last 45 minutes of the flight approaching Santiago, you are soaring high above beautiful mountains. You land amongst the mountains and the city of Santiago is surrounded by mountains. The mountains run the length of the country, but also split the width of the country. They also are responsible for dividing the climate between coastal and humid to inland dry and desert-like. No question, the towering mountains are everywhere and they are spectacular.

2. Homeless. As I approached the historic centre of Santiago by taxi, the first thing that caught my eye in the green space dividing the main street was a person (man or woman, I’m not sure), sitting on a large tree stump with their pants around their ankles. I shouldn’t have stared, but it was really unusual and I just couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. That hot Friday afternoon when I arrived, the green space was laden with homeless people sleeping, peeing, defecating and puking. Not really the best first impression of the city, but none-the-less, I was there to experience the real Santiago, not just the tourist version.

3. Dirty. Despite seeing people out collecting garbage from the streets, the historical centre was a dirty area. Dust from the dry climate combined with lack of education for littering, left the streets strewn with garbage. The beautiful purple jacaranda trees were also starting to lose their petals, which left the streets carpeted with bright purple flowers.

Jacaranda tree, Santiago, Chile

Jacaranda tree, Santiago, Chile

4. Dry. I have never visited an area with such dry heat. I’ve always visited Caribbean areas that have high humidity, so I’ve always associated 30+ degree weather with sweating profusely. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to walk down the street in the afternoon sun and not need a shower 20 minutes later. The dry heat was a pleasant surprise and the sunshine on my face was most welcome.

5. Easy to navigate on foot. If you rent a hotel or apartment near the historic district, it is no problem at all to find your way around the central area of the city on foot. In fact, I did so without a map. However, if you have a map you’ll likely find all of the tourist spots much quicker and not miss out. Myself, I just wandered around the streets and then sauntered back to my apart-hotel.

6. No begging. No bothering. Despite what seemed like a lot of homeless people in the central historic area, I was never once asked for money or bothered at all. Even when I walked through the Central Market and down the main streets with stores, vendors and restaurants, I was not hollered at or begged to spend money on anything. Vendors simply existed there and if you wanted to purchase something you could approach them, otherwise, they continued about their day.

7. Tranquilo. A word aptly used to describe the overall atmosphere of the city, tranquil. No one was in a hurry, very few cars were beeping and over the weekend that I was there, there was next to no traffic. People walk slowly and take in their surroundings and conversations with friends. There were no fights or brawls. Simply tranquil.

8. Safe. Being in a new city is always a little bit intimidating for a solo female traveler such as myself. In any city it is best to always be on guard and follow general safety measures such as not wearing fancy jewellery, not carrying your passport or all of your money and making sure that you are aware of your surroundings. Personally, I felt very comfortable in Santiago because of it’s laid back attitude and slow pace. For a big city, it seemed to have a country attitude.

9. Street Art. After having visited Athens in October and going on a Street Art tour, I am much more cognizant of Street Art in other cities. Ranging from proper graffiti (with a purpose), to graffiti for the sake of defacing a building to murals and colourful drawings, Santiago does not disappoint with the street art. Although there is not much in the historic district, within about 10 blocks (near the Loreto Hotel) the streets come alive with bursts of colour and imaginative designs.

10. Hot dogs. Although I chose not to have one, hot dogs are a popular choice for lunch or a snack with hot dog stands spread throughout the historic centre. If you are not feeling like eating on the run, you can also choose a local restaurant on the street or in the market and chance are, they will have a hot dog with your choice of toppings or fully loaded that you can munch on while watching the futbol match of the evening.

Overall, I enjoyed Santiago. I felt safe and easily got my bearings. I had no safety issues and soaked up the dry heat whenever I could get outside in the sun. I was a bit disappointed that most shops and restaurants were closed on Sunday, but I managed to find what I needed.

Sadly, the homeless situation bothered me. Many large cities struggle with this problem and I certainly don’t know what the answer is, but I know that as I walked by men passed out on the streets in various positions, sometimes lying in their own vomit, that I felt horrible that there was nothing I could do to help these people in that particular moment.

Although it is not a destination that I will rush to return to, it is also not a destination that I dread returning to. I wouldn’t suggest spending more than one or two days in the city, but it is an excellent starting or ending point with lots of day tours that you can do to surrounding cities, mountains and vineyards.

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Vina and Valpo – Part 2

Valparaiso was the area that I was most interested in visiting as many people had told me of it’s beauty. I hadn’t realized that Vina del Mar and Valparaiso were so close to each other. In fact, there is no clear line between the two. The cities just gently join one another.

Valparaiso aptly translates to Valley of Paradise.

Valparaiso is the older of the two cities. It was originally the first port that ships arrived at when sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, it was the most important and best known port on the Pacific Ocean in South America. At the time (late 1800’s), it was a melting pot for all different cultures as many immigrants came to settle in the area for it’s prevailing prosperity and economic situation. Many of the immigrants were from Eastern Europe and Russia, but others came from all over the world.

It is known for being home to Latin America’s first stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, the country’s first public library and the oldest newspaper in continuous publication in the world. History truly runs deep through this enchanting city.

Other than being an important port for cargo ships, it was also widely known for the fishing industry as the cold arctic current turns the Pacific ocean into a highway for fish, bringing masses of them nearby throughout various seasons. Sadly, when the Panama canal was built in 1914, the route for ships was changed and Valparaiso was all but forgotten near the southern tip of the continent, causing a major economic downturn.

It is such a shame because Valparaiso truly is a unique area. Of course, the port was the main focus, but when the city grew by leaps and bounds, it had no where to expand except for up the surrounding steep hills. Houses were built mostly with cheap materials such as wood and corrugated metal and then painted with the same type of paint that was used on the ships as it was readily available and cheap. Today, most of the houses remain the same. Some say the bright paint colours were used so that the houses could be seen through the dense fog that covers the area every morning.

Valparaiso is also known for it’s variety and quantity of street art splashing the walls and gates with brilliant colours, throughout the residential areas, with beautifully designed paintings from artists around the world. Although street art is not officially legal, it is widely accepted as part of the community. Many locals seek out artists to design art for their outer house or business walls. And, many artists who find wall space available pitch their ideas to the owner and collaborate before permanently introducing their art.

And, they are very proud of their artistic talent in Valparaiso. Particularly, Pablo Neruda. We visited one of his houses which his wife turned into a museum after his passing. He was world-renowned in poetry, also a well-known and loved writer, politician and diplomat. Today, many of his works can be found translated into many other languages and some still grace the best sellers list.

House of Pablo Neruda

Writer, thinker, poet, diplomat and politician.

The central area of Valparaiso is protected by Unesco as of 2003. The areas warmly known as Happy Hill and Conception Hill have the only functioning funiculars in the area.

The funiculars were built starting in the late 1800’s to move people easily and cheaply up and down the steep hillsides. Every morning people would come down the hills to work in the centre or at the port and then in the evening, everyone would be tasked with climbing up the steep hills to their homes. The funiculars were put in place to aid the locals, mainly with their ascent up the hills. Originally there were approximately 26 funiculars throughout the city, painted in bright colours and street art to match the surrounding areas. But now, there are only eight remain in operation.

I was lucky enough to get to travel down on one, El Peral, built in 1902. The ride cost one Chilean peso and took about one minute. There are two funiculars at the same station. As one is traveling down, the other is balancing the gears by traveling up. It boggles my mind that any of the equipment still functions. From the clearly ancient gears, to the warped door that had to be wiggled just right in order to open and the questionable floor boards at the waiting station … it was quite the experience.

Sadly our tour was a bit rushed and I only got to view one or two of the other funiculars in passing. I didn’t have time to photograph them. I wish I had more time to fully explore the beautiful mess that is Valparaiso. I felt my time was too short and rushed to understand the community, but I could instantly feel at home in the disarray of streets and mess of colours. Despite the now poor economic situation, the city is alive with colour, culture and history.

Vina & Valpo – Part 1

When I got accepted for a FAM trip (familiarization) with the fabulous Intrepid Travel Group to Chile and Argentina, I was beyond excited. I had applied for the trip, but it was full. A couple of months later, a spot opened up, I applied again and was given the opportunity to attend. I knew nothing at all about Chile except for it’s location on the map, that it was a Spanish speaking country and that it lays claim to a portion of Patagonia, with the other half being in Argentina.

In mentioning Chile to people, I was told repeatedly that I must not miss the chance to see Valparaiso for it’s colorful houses, unique history and ancient funiculars (or ascencores). I did minimal research, but knew immediately that it was a place that I wanted to visit.

I considered going straight to Valparaiso from the airport on a local bus, but I thought it would be a bit much for my first day in the country and I’d be tired from the flight. So, I booked a hotel in Santiago and made the decision to not decide until I arrived. I’m really good at making decisions not to decide by the way … but at least once I’ve decided not to decide until a certain point I can move it off my plate, out of my head and get other things done!

Once I was settled into my hotel in Santiago, I walked to the central market and then to Plaza des armas where there was supposed to be an info centre. Sadly, when I finally found it (at about 3:30pm Friday afternoon), it was closed. So, I headed back to the central market where I had noticed several tour companies.

Sure enough a gentleman speaking excellent English nabbed me out of a line up at one of the tourist offices and took me to a spot where I would get ‘THE BEST PRICE’. I went with him because it was still in the central market, he was friendly and I hoped that I wouldn’t have to wait in line to speak with someone. And, I didn’t have to wait at all. However, the girl was going to run (literally) to go get someone who could speak English. Being brave, I stopped her and told her if she spoke slowly, that I would understand most of what she had to say in Spanish.

She took me through a short slideshow of the Vino & Valpo tour that they offered. It was a group tour on a bus and they spent very little time actually in Valparaiso which was the main point in me taking the tour. I asked her if they offered the tour in English the next day and she said advised that it would be only a Spanish guide. I decided that I didn’t understand enough Spanish to want to sit on a bus all day with only Spanish as I felt that I wouldn’t get to take many pictures due to the schedule and I also wouldn’t understand the history, so it seemed to be a waste.

Another staff member briefly explained to me that I could take a couple of subways and then buses to get there and explore on my own. (Which now, I’m glad I didn’t) Although I’m sure I could have managed, I somehow didn’t feel like using the brain power to navigate all of the transit situations needed to get me there.

As a last resort, I asked if any other companies offered the tours in English. They were kind enough to tell me yes, that a company called Turistik offers English tours, but they are much more expensive.

I thanked them for their time, and went on my way knowing that a busy Spanish speaking tour was not what I wanted.

I happened across the Turistik office on my way out of the central market and was immediately greeted by three young, enthusiastic, English speaking locals. I had a chat with them about their Vino & Valpo tour and decided it was a great compromise as the guide would explain in Spanish and English, we would visit Vino del Mar and Valparaiso and, I wouldn’t have to worry about any logistics because they would pick me up and drop me off at the market.

On Saturday, November 15th I arrived at the office at 8:15am and was picked up by a big Turistik bus with leather seats and air conditioning. We drove around the centre of the city picking up other guests and then made our way to a central gathering area where we were shown which bus to get on for our specific tours.

Once on the bus, I sat with a lovely lady named Ana from Madrid, Spain. And we each practiced our second language with each other. It was a great way to pass the time on the two hour bus ride.

Along the way, our guide, Felipe explained about the climate and Chile’s landscape. It was very interesting. Usually he would explain in Spanish and I would understand about 1/4 to 1/2 of what he was saying and then he would explain in English and I’d understand much more clearly.

As we drove through a mountain tunnel, he explained that Chile has two prominent mountain ranges, the Andes and the coastal range. The Andes run across the country from east to west (or most of the way). The coastal mountain range splits the country from north to south. Hmmm … I had no idea! On the east side of the coastal mountains, you’ll find Santiago which is incredibly hot, dry and dusty. On the west side of the coastal mountains (where we were headed) it would be humid, green and a bit chilly. Of course, none of us really believed it would be cold. Afterall, we were in the south and headed to Vino del Mar to a beach on the Pacific Ocean.

Chile Mountains & Vineyards

Chile Mountains & Vineyards

As we exited the tunnel on the west side of the mountain range, you could instantly see a difference in the landscape. Lush green fields and mountains covered in trees. Vineyards everywhere with green leaves. And, the windows on the bus started to fog up. What a difference!

As we circled our way down the big mountain toward the Pacific Ocean, we were constantly wiping the condensation from the windows in order to be able to see out. Despite the grey sky and thick fog hanging in the air over the grey ocean, you could see Valparaiso off to the left and Vina del Mar to the right. Coming down the S shaped curve, navigating to the bottom of the mountain gave you views in either direction until you reached the flat area close to the water.

Vina del Mar
We visited Vina del Mar first. Along the way our guide pointed out a few of the well-known buildings of the relatively young city and then we stopped for a walk around Palacio Vergara. The palace has been completely rebuilt once after an earthquake devastated it hundreds of years ago. More recently, after being rebuilt, it has stood strong through several major earthquakes until 2010 when it was heavily damaged. The restoration will begin in 2015. It was interesting to hear Felipe speak about the palace and the family who lived there with such passion. Obviously proud to be Chilean with a love for these two interconnected cities and a yearning to keep the cities’ history alive.

Palacio Vergara, Vina Del Mar, Chile

Palacio Vergara, Vina Del Mar, Chile

A short walk through the park brings you to Vina del Mar’s amphitheatre which is home to the end of summer International Song festival in February of each year. 15 000 people gather at the amphitheatre for a week full of music appreciation for all ages, big international performers such Rod Stewart and Elton John, along with Chilean celebrities and nightly comedy shows.

We had a short stop at the well-known white sandy beach that drops off to the chilly Pacific ocean. It was beautiful to see the sand and ocean waves with the city of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso in the background. I didn’t waste a minute getting to the water to dip my toes in the cold Pacific! AHHHH. Refreshing! I wouldn’t want to go swimming in it though. It was a bit chilly, even for this Canadian girl!

Beach, Vina del Mar, Chile

Beach, Vina del Mar, Chile

After a quick obligatory stop at the flower clock that was gifted to Vina del Mar from Switzerland, our guide explained that we would be stopping for lunch, but we would only have one hour in order to stay on schedule. The company had arranged for us to eat at the Municipal Casino where there was a buffet lunch. The guide made it quite clear that the lunch was optional and we were not required to eat at that location, but we could if we wanted.

Vina del Mar Flower Clock

Vina del Mar Flower Clock

Despite the high end price, I decided to eat with the group. Sadly, I was quite disappointed in the food that cost me close to $30 USD. It was indeed a buffet and there were quite a few options, but none of them were fantastic.

There were a variety of breads, cheeses, olives and salads along with several types of hot, fresh meat from beef to pork, chicken to salmon with capers.

Lunch Menu at Municipal Casino, Vina del Mar, Chile

Lunch Menu at Municipal Casino, Vina del Mar, Chile

The best part of the buffet was the spread of approximately 10 different desserts. I’m sure I tried at least four of them and they were all delicious!

Next up, the part that I had been waiting for, Valparaiso!

How much do things cost in Chile

I’m going to be a good girl and try to keep track of my expenses while I’m traveling. This is not an exciting blog post, just simply for information purposes.

1. For tax purposes. When receipts are in other languages it is hard for my bookkeeper to determine what’s what.
2. For information for others traveling to these destinations.

November 14th

Reciprocity fee – $132 USD – credit card – Good for the term of your passport. Great if you’ve just gotten a brand new 10-year one. Not so good if you are replacing it that same year.

Taxi – minibus – booked after I picked up my luggage, but before leaving airport – $31 USD – credit card
* I checked with several other travellers who had gotten their own taxi outside the airport instead of a minibus / transfer through the company inside the airport. Some were able to negotiate down to about $25 USD, but most were $28 – $30 USD. It depends how good your negotiating skills are.

Ah Hotel – Historical Centre – Santiago – $132 for 2 nights – continental breakfast included

$50 US – changed at a ‘cambio station’ near Plaza del Armas – $29800 Chilean Pesos

Lunch – 1/4 chicken, french fries & pop – 4450 Chilean pesos – approx $7.50 USD
2 water, coke, 2 litre juice – $4.50 USD

Full Day tour – Vina del Mar & Valparaiso – 34 000 Chilean pesos – approx $57 USD – credit card

Lunch buffet with tour at Municipal Casino in Vina del Mar – $23 USD – credit card
Dinner – 4450 Pesos – approx $7.50 – cash
Tip at dinner – $350 pesos – cash
Tip for Felipe (guide) – $2000 pesos – cash

Taxi – 2 kms between hotels – 2450 pesos (gave him 3000 – an extra .50c or so)
Lunch at Da Nui on Portugal Ave – Pollitos y arroz, coke, jello w/ bananas – $4100 pesos + $400 pesos tip.

Dinner at a steak restaurant – Steak and veggies, coke, dessert – $34 USD including tip

I also gave a few coins to the baggage boys who loaded my luggage on to the bus in Santiago and unloaded it in Mendoza. This isn’t required, but it is simply easier. They make it very clear that they are expecting tips. There is no set rate, a few coins will do. They won’t allow you to put your own luggage in or remove it. And, if you refuse to tip them be prepared for a scene. To ensure your luggage isn’t damaged purposely or left behind, just chuck up the dollar or two.

Ah Hotel – Santiago, Chile

A couple of weeks before traveling to Santiago, Chile I booked myself a room at the Ah Hotel. It is an aparta-hotel, so it comes with a kitchenette. It is centrally located within only a couple of blocks of the historic city centre, on a main street with a bus stop directly in front of the entrance.

My taxi driver dropped me off and I pushed the buzzer for someone to come unlock the front door for me. They keep this door locked all of the time for security, so no matter what time of day or night you are arriving, you need to buzz in, or you can buzz yourself out. It was nice to know not just anyone could come and go, especially with the bus stop right there and what seemed like an abundance of homeless nearby.

The lady who greeted me did not speak much English, but that was ok as I had proudly just had a full Spanish conversation with my taxi driver. So, I was at least over my jitters about opening my mouth to try and speak Spanish. She found my reservation, checked me in and showed me to my room, up one flight of stairs. She also carried my suitcase up the stairs for me.

The room was plain. In fact I can’t even embellish the sentence as it was that dull. Honestly, it made no difference to me as I was only there for a couple of nights. The walls were white, it was sparsely furnished and only one piece of art crookedly hanging above the double bed.

The lady left me to settle in and I checked behind each of the three closed doors to see what I would find.

Door #1 a kitchen the size of a closet, but equipped with almost everything I would need for two days. There was a mini fridge, a cooktop, some silverware, a couple of pots, glasses and dishes. I checked closely for cockroaches, just waiting to let out a horrible scream, but I found none and the kitchen, although not spotless, was sufficiently clean.

Door #2 opened up to a decent size bathroom that looked like it had possibly been renovated in the last few years (unlike the remainder of the apartment). The paint was peeling a bit, but everything was clean, the toilet was new and it was bright.

Door #3 was a small closet with shelves and hangers for those who were staying longer and wanted to unpack.

Sounds good so far right?

Now, keep in mind that I am not a particularly squeamish person. I’m used to traveling and staying in basic accommodations with a variety of issues. I am far from a neat freak, clean freak or perfectionist which all of my friends and family can vouch for.

After getting past the first glance, I looked around and realized that the apartment was actually quite dirty. The floors were smattered in black patches. There were so many of them that I thought it might be part of the colour in the wood floor, but no … Not unless it has been dirty for so long that it has seeped into the wood. This is a distinct possibility. It looked like the floors had not been mopped for a year … maybe more. This was the kind of place that you don’t walk barefoot unless you want your feet to turn black.

It almost looks like soot or volcanic ash, and maybe it is, but if there is that much on the floor in a closed building, what do people’s lungs look like? Yikes!

Based on the dirt on the floor, I became immediately more aware of the dirt everywhere else. The curtains that were once white, were grey; darker at the bottom from the soot everywhere. The walls were the same with the baseboards collecting more dust than I’ve ever seen.

On further inspection, the kitchen had a few bits and pieces of food left around and the plates and glasses were not all that clean. This could be because they don’t provide dish liquid or cleaning cloths. So, if you plan to stay for awhile, you’ll need to buy your own … along with a mop apparently!

The bathroom was actually still decently clean with surprisingly good quality toilet paper. I know, random thing to notice! However, the towels were another story. Although you could tell they had been washed from the way they felt from being air dried and were folded neatly. Maybe they were washed in the river though? A couple of stains, some ground in dirt and even a couple of rips showed that these had been around for a very long time.

At 11pm on the first night there was a knock on my door with delivery of breakfast on a platter for the next morning. An individual-sized packet of Chilean style frosted flakes, a Quaker Oatmeal cookie, tea, coffee, sugar, milk and orange juice boxes and yogurt. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was just enough to get me going the next morning.

The first night when I went to crawl into bed, it was the first bed that I ever in my life have checked for bed bugs. Luckily, I didn’t find any. I didn’t sleep the greatest that night as I was still thinking about them, but I woke up the next morning un-eaten.

I would definitely give the hotel a great rating on location. It really does not get much better. However, if you like cleanliness, you should look elsewhere, this is not the spot for you. I paid about $50 – $55 per night CAD and I’m very excited to move on to my next hotel, included in my tour which should be a huge improvement. Having said that, it wasn’t so bad that I decided to move elsewhere. I survived it. It was a great location, internet worked perfectly, the bed was reasonably comfortable and the shower wasn’t bad. It just needs some TLC and some strong cleaning solution.

Very surprised to see that it won a trip advisor award in 2013. Did I just have a bad room? Did it just not get cleaned fully before I arrived? Who knows … Or sometimes trip advisor isn’t the be-all-end-all.

Halifax to Santiago – the usual Shari glitches

November 14, 2014
NOTE: Many more past posts coming up about my six weeks in Europe (Sept / Oct 2014), but I’m going to try to keep up a little better on this trip as it is at a more leisurely pace. So … here’s a post about TODAY!

I never leave Canada without some kind of small (or large glitch) and once again, this trip has proved no different.

I set off from Halifax, Nova Scotia at 8:30pm on November 13th, our plane was late arriving, but we boarded and arrived in Toronto on time. I had an hour and a half layover in Toronto which was just enough time to change from terminal D to E (a lot of walking) and respond to a couple of work emails before boarding. I was pleasantly surprised that my gate had an open lounge concept set up with loads of free charging stations, tablets for your use and free wifi. I really appreciate it when airports have free reliable internet, but so many of them are one or the other.

We were scheduled to board at 11:45pm, but the first call for boarding came shortly after 11pm along with an announcement for passengers from several countries to have proof of payment of your reciprocity fee. Huh? Being a little tired, I thought maybe I had heard wrong. I knew I had to pay a reciprocity fee, but I was sure that I only had a printed copy for Argentina and I was going to Chile … wasn’t I?

I went and asked one of the Air Canada staff who looked quickly at my Argentinian reciprocity receipt and said that’s what I needed, but I said ‘but I’m going to Chile first and Argentina later.’ I wasn’t in a panic, but we were boarding, so if I had to pay the Chilean fee upfront, I needed to do so online with that free wifi quickly.

The man had to go ask. He came back and told me that they were only announcing it because the plane was continuing on to Buenos Aires, so passengers to Argentina had to have proof of theirs being pre-paid. For Chile, I would pay at the airport. Now why they couldn’t have announced it that way, I’m not sure … but …

Crisis averted.

I had picked my inside aisle seat in a row with no other passengers in anticipation that I might get to lay down vertically for the 10 hour flight. To my dismay, since I had chosen that seat, a man had chosen the other aisle and he had already laid claim to the centre seat with all of his stuff as well. GRRRR … Sleeping sitting up it was!

I managed to sleep through most of the night, waking up when there was turbulence or meals were being served, but overall I got enough sleep. In fact, I couldn’t believe it when I woke up the last time and it was only 1.5 hours until touch down. Wow! That went really fast.

Dinner was some kind of horrible chicken in a white cream sauce with very little flavour and then I had pancakes with fruit and what tasted like cream cheese frosting. I usually don’t mind plane food, but honestly, both of these were the pits.

Sadly I couldn’t see the beautiful mountains on the way into Santiago because I had chosen a chance at vertical sleep over the window seat that I originally had. I should have known better. From what I could see from staring around my neighbours, the mountains were spectacular.

Overall, a relatively uneventful trip. Despite the fact that I still hate flying, there was very little turbulence and when there was, it was minimal. And then, the pilot landed that jumbo jet like it only weighed 10lbs. It was the most graceful landing ever, barely even noticeable.

I was less than half-way back on the plane, so it wasn’t much of a wait to deplane. I followed all of the signs and even pointed someone else in the right direction to go pay the reciprocity fee, which the sign said was on ‘level 1’. I got to level one and the greeter spoke to me in Spanish. She asked where I was from, I said Canada and she pointed me off to the right. I got in a line with about 50 other people and thought … hmmmm … this line is very short. Could I really be this lucky?

UMMMMMM … NO.

My turn came and the lady told me I had to go pay my reciprocity fee. Damn it. I thought that was what I was waiting in line for … Meanwhile, the line of 50 that were in front of me had turned easily to 200 behind me. And, off I went to another line up to pay my reciprocity fee ($132 USD for Canadians – which was payable in US dollars or by credit card). It’s really nice that the reciprocity fee is good for the life of the passport, sadly, after this Latin America / Caribbean / Central America trip over the next 3 – 4 months, my passport will be out of pages and I’ll be renewing. That means if I head back to Chile, I’ll pay the fee again. But, if you have a new passport when you go to Chile for the first time, it’ll be valid for the length of your new 10-year Canadian passport. So, I hope some of you other Canadians benefit from it!

Then, I returned to the immigration line up behind 300 or so people and patiently waited my turn. UG! Not that it really mattered. I didn’t have a transfer or tour waiting, so I was in no particular hurry … I just wanted to get to the sunshine! (A high of 31 degrees here today. AHHHHH SUNSHINE!)